Skip to main content

What about Martin's right to 'stand his ground'?

By Miller Francis, CNN
updated 11:51 AM EDT, Fri July 12, 2013
George Zimmerman is congratulated by members of his defense team, Don West and Lorna Truett, after the not guilty verdict is read on Saturday, July 13, in Sanford, Florida. A jury of six women found him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/13/justice/gallery/zimmerman-trial-reaction/index.html' target='_blank'>View photos of the public reaction to the verdict.</a> George Zimmerman is congratulated by members of his defense team, Don West and Lorna Truett, after the not guilty verdict is read on Saturday, July 13, in Sanford, Florida. A jury of six women found him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. View photos of the public reaction to the verdict.
HIDE CAPTION
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Miller Francis: George Zimmerman trial should be renamed the Trayvon Martin trial
  • He says question not raised: Wasn't Martin the one standing his ground, facing a stalker?
  • We're told that by defending himself, Martin justified his own execution, he says
  • Francis: Prosecution should use stand-your-ground on Martin's behalf; it's about race, justice

Editor's note: Miller Francis a selections archivist for the CNN Library. He is writing a novel.

(CNN) -- Like many people, I've been riveted by the George Zimmerman trial. I call it "the George Zimmerman trial" because that's what it is, but the more I watch, the more I wonder: Should it be renamed "the Trayvon Martin trial?"

I'm not just talking about some of the media's tabloid-like focus on Martin's background, his personal history, his school records and -- outside the courtroom -- the toxicology report. I'm talking about an aspect of the case that never comes up in the media coverage, one that I would argue is key.

This murder trial, in and out of the courtroom, has been boiled down to one question: Was Zimmerman in fear for his life and thus justified in defending himself by shooting and killing Martin?

It has been framed this way -- in terms of Zimmerman's mortal fear -- since the shooting in 2012.

Zimmerman's assumptions led to death, prosecutor argues

Some people have forgotten that Zimmerman was not even arrested initially. It took more than a month for the special prosecutor to bring the second-degree murder charge. And if not for mass protests across the country, he might not be the defendant in a murder trial at all.

Miller Francis
Miller Francis

The question that has not surfaced in the courtroom -- the elephant in the room -- is this: Did Martin fear for his life after being followed and confronted by a stranger while going to the store to buy candy and a soft drink? Was he, Martin, justified in standing his ground and defending himself when this stranger, an apparent stalker, approached him in a threatening manner?

Zimmerman didn't identify himself and never said he was part of the neighborhood watch group.

Think about it: We're told over and over that if Zimmerman was afraid of Martin, according to Florida law, he had the right to put a bullet in the chamber of his concealed handgun, get out of his car after being told not to by the 911 dispatcher and follow and confront Martin and shoot him to death.

At the same time, we are told that Martin, who had far greater reason to fear Zimmerman, practically and for reasons of American history, did not have the right to confront his stalker, stand his ground and defend himself, including by using his fists. We are told that this was entirely unjustified and by doing so, Martin justified his own execution.

Running updates from the Zimmerman trial

Zimmerman's attorneys steal spotlight
Judge denies acquittal motion
Does Zimmerman have hysterical amnesia?
Resting their case

The phrases "stand your ground" and "self-defense" have been repeated endlessly by anchors, pundits, analysts and experts, but rarely applied to Martin.

How could this be? Why is this other question ignored? Surely it will come up as we approach the trial, I thought. But it hasn't. What's going on here? How can the Florida law apply only to Zimmerman and not to Martin?

I remembered the sharp, sometimes bitter commentary provoked by Spike Lee's 1989 film "Do the Right Thing," particularly in reaction to its climactic scenes, when the police murder a black teenager and Lee's character throws a trash can through the window of the white-owned pizza place.

Years after the movie came out, Lee told an interviewer, "White people still ask me why Mookie threw the can through the window. ...Twenty years later, they're still asking me that."

"No black person ever, in 20 years, no person of color has ever asked me why," he said.

This speak volumes about race and power relations in this country.

Opinion: Zimmerman trial - it's about race

Here's what I think: Assuming Martin did engage Zimmerman physically, perhaps if the teen had hit back a little bit harder, perhaps if he had been able to prevent Zimmerman from grabbing his concealed and loaded gun and perhaps if witnesses had come to Martin's aid, then maybe he would be alive today. That's speculation.

One thing I feel sure of is that if Martin, in fear for his life, had used Zimmerman's own gun to shoot and possibly kill his attacker, when the police arrived on the scene, they would not have failed to charge him with murder.

Why hasn't the prosecution team used Florida law to argue strongly for Martin's right of self-defense, his right to stand his ground against a stalker? Why not turn the tables on Zimmerman's exclusive claim to that argument?

It will be interesting to see whether this question even gets posed for the jury at all. It certainly will be front and center as this case is tried by the jury of history. And future generations will likely puzzle over how the term "racial profiling" could have been banned by the judge before the trial even began.

This country's racial history, the list of names, like Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant and other victims of "deadly force" by the police—these represent an even bigger Elephant in the Room.

They may have been ruled irrelevant in the courtroom, but they are certainly relevant to those who seek justice in this society.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Miller Francis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT